Written by: Marc Gottlieb, Mark Atkins
Directed by: Mark Atkins
Starring: Brandon Auret, Stephanie Beran, and Lindsay Sullivan
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
ďRockets won't help you when they come."
"When who comes?"
"When who comes?"
Most of the shark movies from the SyFy/Asylum era are characterized by a weird sense of misguided ambition. Nearly all of them are the product of someoneóI like to imagine the dopiest executive board imaginable throwing darts at a vision boardódreaming up impossible scenarios that will never, ever be fulfilled on the meager budgets afforded them. Not that youíd ever really expect that to ever happen, anyway; indeed, thatís part of the ďcharm,Ē so to speakóthe premise of these films are so outrageous and dumb that nobody in their right mind would throw that type of money at them, so weíre left with hyper-aware movies that embrace their idiocy with the express purpose to be laughed at. Every now and then, though, one slips through the cracks thatís actually (almost) deadly serious, like Planet of the Sharks. Donít get me wrong: itís still weirdly ambitious in that it imagines a post-apocalyptic world where sharks swarm, atop a food chain thatís now dwindling with humans forced to live at sea. Thatís right: some motherfucker out there wondered aloud what Waterworld might have looked like with a bunch of sharks. I kid, but the movie does not, as this is about as ponderous and self-serious as these things get.
Set in a bleak distant future where mankind never reckoned with climate change, the film imagines a world where the entirety of the planetís landmass is submerged, leaving humans to live in sparsely populated floating colonies. Some are tight-knit groups that scavenge to survive, while others are dedicated to reversing the climate in order to restore Earth to its glory. One group of scientists has even gone so far as to construct a machine that will eventually fire a rocket into space in the hopes that it will somehow diminish water levels and return humans to the continents of their ancestors. Complicating matters is the gigantic swarm of sharks that travels in a pack, looking to wreck everyoneís plans; when one major colony is completely decimated by an attack, the surrounding groupsóscientists, scavengers, warriorsóunite to solve the shark problem before the climate machine can work its magic.
As dumb as this synopsis sounds, Planet of the Sharks tries to unfold as plausibly as possible, which is to say itís not too bad to sit through. Maybe it sounds like giving an A for effort, but I at least appreciate that this one isnít trying to yuk it up at every turn to earn mean live-tweets. Even though Waterworld was an infamous flop, there are certainly worse approaches than the one taken here (they often involve grafting sharks onto natural disasters). While one can certainly imagine the obvious perils of imagining a post-apocalyptic shark movie on such a meager budget, this one does okay with its scraps: the performances are largely competent, and the shark effects arenít laughably bad. In fact, director Mark Atkins is careful about lingering on them too much and exposing the shoestring effects work. Itís not ideal, especially when the sharks still do ridiculous shit at times, but itís preferable to the ďlook at how bad this is!Ē school of thought thatís defined this genre in recent years. Thereís a conviction here that Iíll take a million times over the ironic shtick of its contemporaries.
Of course, Iíd rather watch none of these things unless they start throwing an actual budget and invested talent at them. Unfortunately, any effort here is hindered by the usual litany of shortcomings that sink the rest of this shit: the characters are flat, any sense of pacing is nonexistent, and the scant action is undercut by the budget. At no point does this truly feel like an epic, post-apocalyptic vision of the future, and the film does itself no favors by resorting to that twisted ambition that finds its characters engaged in over-the-top scenarios, like evading sharks on parasails or igniting a dormant volcano to eradicate the beasts in one fell swoop. The effects are at their worst here, as the crew scrounges up awful explosions that wouldnít have been acceptable in video games a decade ago, let alone in a goddamn movie now. Again, cool ideasóitís just that they never have any chance of reaching their potential within these limiting confines.
To its credit, Planet of the Sharks tries to limit these over-the-top outbursts for long stretches. Itís a noble gesture that backfires, though, as these characters are too dull to really care about, as they spend most of the movie speaking in technobabble about their plan to fire their rocket into space. Those who do leave an impression come off as cut-rate versions of other, superior characters and performers: Angie Teodora Dick is doing a weird riff on Tina Turnerís Auntie Entity from Thunderdome, while Brandon Auret feels like a discount rate Michael Shannon who spends most of the movie wearing an incredulous look, almost as if he couldnít believe his agent subjected him to this shit. Everyone else registers as varying degrees of being a warm body on camera, with some proving to be more lively than others. Again, most of them spend so much time treading through dialogue about the climate machine that they donít really have a chance to leave an impression, which is hardly the fault of the performers.
Planet of the Sharks reveals how taking a (somewhat) serious approach is a double-edged sword: going such a route within this genre all but requires memorable characters and great performances to compensate for, well, just about everything else. This doesnít have either, so the movie is mostly a bore: the Asylumís signature brand of generic music blares constantly, attempting (but failing) to create the impression of suspense and excitement as the characters toil about, waiting for an action sequence (one of which involves actors chucking spears at the largely off-screen sharks) to break out. These do little to liven the proceedings, but the expository bits are such a drag that you welcome them; ironically enough, by the end, you welcome the sort of insane bullshit youíd see in the more ridiculous Asylum fare, like a scene where a scientist basically uses the alpha shark as a battery for her machine, complete with glorified jumper cables and everything. Weirdly enough, the over-the-top stuff thatís become passť in these movies proves to be the most memorable moments hereónot that there are a lot of them, mind you, and certainly not enough to heartily recommend this movie to any reasonable person.
What I can say, however, is that Planet of the Sharks is the rare effort of this ilk where I could see the appeal of this being done proper. Nobody really wants to see the likes of Sharknado or Atomic Shark or whatever being done with a straight face on a suitable budget. Something like this, however, would totally work with the right kind of investment: far be it from me to shun the idea of a Waterworld rip-off featuring killer sharks, a dormant volcano, and parasailing theatrics. Ideas can only take you so far, though, and, in this case, they help Planet of the Sharks limp to something approaching respectability, even if itís only because it doesnít dare to be completely, ironically bad. Itís just bad, which somehow works out better in this equation. Donít ask me how that math works out because Iím not the one thatís completely warped any and all notions of quality when it comes to these movies.
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